February is the month of Valentine’s Day and declaring our feelings. Therefore, it feels like a good time to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly emotions that we all experience – and what to do with them.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this!
We all have feelings. In my mind, that isn’t always a good thing. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with emotions for years! I am not a natural touchy-feely type; however, I have learned that there is value in all types of emotions.
If we think about emotions as light and dark, then we know one type by comparing it to the other. For example, we experience joy in the context of sadness. We can’t experience one without the other. If we only feel one type o emotion, it’s like looking at something white on a white background.
One quote that I heard in high school has stayed with me for almost 40 years: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (I will admit that I did not remember where the quote came from, and I had to look it up.)
There was a time when I was awful at dealing with my feelings. That is to say, I stuffed them most of the time. If a feeling made me the least little bit uncomfortable, it was banished. I was very good at not feeling my feelings.
I began my life coach training in 2005, and they wanted to talk about feelings a lot. I didn’t want to play in the beginning! The instructor would walk past some poor person trying to coach me around my feelings, and he would say, “Get her out of her head! She’s always in her head.” Hmmm. Let me think about that.
I do have a tendency to live in my head. I am very logical, but I saw the value in embracing feelings so I changed how I respond to emotions. I decided to view emotions as friends rather than enemies.
The first step to embracing your feelings is to know that dark feelings are not bad and light feelings are not good. Feelings just are, and all feelings are okay. We can react poorly to any emotion, but the emotion is just a natural part of being human.
The next step is to figure out exactly which emotion is visiting. When I feel an emotion, I accurately name it rather than stuffing it. For example, if I feel angry, I would say to myself, “Wow! I am feeling very angry, and disappointed, and frustrated!” Stepping outside ourselves to objectively define how we are feeling takes away some of the power of the emotions.
In the beginning, I wasn’t even good at labeling light emotions! I wasn’t sure about what I liked or what brought me joy. I’d spent many years as a stay-at-home mom who did what everyone else liked to do. I did enjoy those things, but I didn’t know what I enjoyed in a vacuum outside of other relationships. I spent a lot of time asking myself, “Do I like doing this? Does this bring me joy?” and “What emotion is this creating?” It was a little unsettling to realize that I didn’t know myself well at all.
It took me a while, but I did improve. It helped to go through a list of various emotions and then decide which one felt most accurate. I would think, “Is this happiness? No. Is this relief? No. Is this contentment? Yes, I think I am content.” A written list of emotions can help you explore your feelings. If you search online for “list of human emotions,” you will get a bunch of results.
Embracing emotions can be scary. I find comfort in the fact that they are just visiting, and not setting up a permanent residence. I guess that one could argue that depression is sadness staying too long. We definitely should get help if a dark emotion won’t go away. However, most of the time our emotions will come and go.
Lastly, it’s a useful exercise to take a few minutes and examine why we are feeling a particular emotion. A dark emotion can be the result of something challenging a value that we hold or our ego reacting to something that makes us feel small. A light emotion can tell us what we like to do and who we like to be around.
Remember that you aren’t a turkey, and you shouldn’t be stuffing yourself with unwanted and unexamined emotions. It’s better to label the emotion, give it a hug, and then figure out the source of it. To feel is to be human and we are all human. There is no need to have a bad feeling about that!
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